Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Westbound And Down

In 2001, I needed to replace my aging, pre-owned 1986 Chevy Celebrity. The old Chevy had more than 100,000 miles under the hood, and although the engine was built like a tank, the A/C was getting too expensive to keep patching, and the roof was sagging in even after I'd tacked it up with staples. The tape deck didn't work anymore, and plugging something into the cigarette lighter blew a fuse. While the seats generally looked good, they'd gotten a deep scrubbing after a bout of carsickness.

My Royal Father recommended I check out the KIA dealer because their cars came with a 10-year warranty. I strolled onto a lot and set my eyes upon a forest-green Rio sedan almost instantly. Some automotive sage surely said, "We don't choose our cars; they choose us." A few days later, when the paperwork was done and the car was spiffed up, I drove it off the lot.

As one of the lowest-priced cars on the market, the Rio lacked many standard features, including metal. Outside of the engine, nearly everything on the car was either plastic or seemed like plastic. Even the seat fabric felt a little like plastic. But it ran, and it ran well. The car made many trips from Tucson to Los Angeles and back, along with a few trips to Las Vegas.

During one of those trips, I got a rude reminder of another missing feature: cruise control. While driving U.S. 89 northwest of Kingman, it's easy to let speed creep up. The road is long and flat, and besides a few mountains, you're looking at telephone poles. Heaven forbid a good song is playing on the radio because you'll be rocking and rolling instead of looking at the speedometer. Then you'll be looking at blue and red lights in the rear-view mirror.

It happened to me about a decade ago. An Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper pulled me over for doing 104 in a 75 miles-per-hour zone. But rather than being angry with my obvious lack of discretion on the gas pedal, he was impressed with the little Rio's performance.

"What is that under the hood, a four-cylinder?" he asked as he scoped the car out, smiling.

He wrote up the ticket and explained my options. "This is Criminal Speeding, which is technically an arrestable offense. But I really don't want to take you to jail." He handed the citation over with its $200 fine and cut me loose to get to Vegas.

After talking to attorneys to go over my options and possibly fight the ticket, I ended up cutting a plea deal with the Mojave County District Attorney during a visit to Vegas a few months later. I asked to get the citation reduced to a civil infraction I could get dismissed with defensive driving class, but the assistant D.A. wouldn't have it. He did cut the fine in half. My insurance rates took a hit, but I changed companies, and remarkably, because they couldn't find the ticket in their system, they gave me a better rate than I had to begin with.

The Rio ran for more than 170,000 miles, going through numerous replacement parts and three compressors before finally breaking down in 2011. The guaranteed-for-life timing belt slipped off, causing the engine to throw a rod. The cost of repairing it was better spent on a new ride, so I bid farewell to the poor old car, forest green paint now peeling and sandblasted from the Arizona desert. I moved up to a hot red KIA Spectra, pre-owned but built a little tougher. Oh, the places we'll go...

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